Sondland confirms Trump sought ‘quid pro quo’
In bombshell testimony in the House impeachment inquiry this week, Ambassador Gordon Sondland directly implicated President Trump in a campaign to pressure Ukraine for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. Bluntly describing the scheme as a “quid pro quo,” Sondland told lawmakers that he and other U.S. diplomats worked with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukraine “at the express direction of the president of the United States.” Sondland, a hotel executive who was named ambassador to the EU after donating $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, depicted himself as an unwilling participant in the plot. “We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani” on Ukraine, Sondland said. But “we followed the president’s orders.”
Sondland went far beyond his initial closed-door testimony, connecting multiple members of the administration to the Ukraine affair. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney were all well aware of Trump’s intentions, Sondland said. Although Trump never directly told him that the White House was withholding $391 million in military aid to extort investigations from Ukraine, Sondland said it was clear that was the goal. “Was there a ‘quid pro quo’? The answer is yes,” said Sondland. “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”
Multiple other Trump administration officials testified that they were disturbed by Trump’s arm-twisting of Ukraine. Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council who listened in on Trump’s July 25 phone call pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for investigations, said it represented his “worst fear” for U.S. policy there. Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence, called Trump’s demands “unusual and inappropriate.” Trump, who had attacked multiple impeachment witnesses on Twitter as “Never Trumpers,” immediately sought to distance himself from Sondland, whom he appointed. “I don’t know him very well,” Trump said. “I have not spoken to him much.”
What the editorials said
The House impeachment inquiry has now uncovered multiple smoking guns, said the San Francisco Chronicle. Sondland is just the latest witness to offer “damning public testimony” about the scheme to force Ukraine to open investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and the 2016 election. Even the witnesses called by Republicans hurt Trump’s case, with Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker saying that corruption allegations involving Biden were “not credible.” Unable to defend Trump’s actions, House Republicans resorted to attacking the witnesses. The attacks on Vindman, a decorated American combat veteran, were truly vile, suggesting he might be disloyal because he was born in Ukraine.
In his enraged response to the hearings, the president “may just have earned himself an article of impeachment,” said The New York Times. As Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch described how she was forced out of her post amid a smear campaign by Giuliani, who saw her as an obstacle to creating his own diplomatic backchannel, Trump started smearing her on Twitter during her testimony. This brazen act of real-time witness intimidation cannot be ignored. Trump’s attacks on Yovanovitch were an “own goal,” said The Wall Street Journal. “He should take Bill Clinton’s advice that the best impeachment defense is to do your job as president.”
What the columnists said
Sondland’s testimony demolishes Trump’s last line of defense, said David Graham in TheAtlantic.com. Republicans had retreated to suggesting that Sondland and Giuliani were rogue operators who came up with the quid pro quo themselves. But “far from freelancing some crazy scheme,” Sondland worked closely with the president and top administration officials to squeeze Ukraine for investigations the president believed would boost his re-election chances. There’s no doubt that Trump personally directed this extortion scheme.
Trump’s actions may have been “misguided or even improperly self-interested,” said Andrew McCarthy in the New York Post. But the fact that “unelected bureaucrats” like Yovanovitch and Vindman disagreed with his Ukraine policy isn’t an impeachable offense. The president alone sets foreign policy. Civil servants’ only job is to carry it out. That’s why Trump’s fate should be decided “at the ballot box,” said Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com. It’s not surprising Trump believes that Ukraine secretly hacked the 2016 election for Democrats or that Hunter Biden “was the linchpin of a vast international bribery and corruption ring.” Trump’s penchant for conspiracy theories was well-known in 2016. The American people “voted for him anyway.”
What is impeachment for if not this? asked Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. We have now heard from multiple credible witnesses implicating Trump in a “corrupt scheme” that harmed American national security in the service of his own personal political gain. Trump held up congressionally approved aid, jeopardizing our relationship with a key ally that was defending itself against Russia. Then his administration obstructed justice by doing everything it could to stymie the investigation. If Republicans continue to defend the president, “it will be because they willfully reject facts that demonstrate Trump violated his oath.”
Sondland’s testimony was also “devastating” for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said Alex Ward in Vox.com. Sondland testified he gave regular updates to Pompeo about the pressure campaign against Ukraine, and that the secretary of state even urged diplomats to work with Giuliani. Pompeo appears to be eyeing the exits, said John Walcott and W.J. Hennigan in Time.com. He’s under fire for not defending State Department employees like Yovanovitch and Taylor from Trump’s attacks, while Trump himself is reportedly furious with Pompeo for not doing enough to stop them from testifying in the first place. The secretary has told three prominent Republicans in recent weeks that he plans to resign from the Trump administration and run for the U.S. Senate in Kansas. “He knows that with Trump, loyalty only flows upstream,” one GOP official said of Pompeo.
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from Getty, NASA, AP ■